Just about everyone in Washington who holds theater dear to the heart gathered in the Old Vat Room of Arena Stage last night to hold champagne glasses aloft.
There was Galileo sitting one row directly behind The Church. Well, actually, it was Arena veteran actor Robert Prosky (fresh from the curtain on the opening of "Galileo" in another theater of Arena Stage) sitting behind Father Gilbert Hartke, drama dean to the city.
There was James Earl Jones, the actor, looking for napkins.
There was Zelda Fichandler, founder and producing director of Arena, being showered with roses, praise, one very funny song, and many kisses.
"How come no one kisses me? " asked executive director Tom Fichandler when James Earl Jones took the stage for a toast and kissed Zelda first. Jones turned and planted a kiss on Tom's cheek.
There was champagne corks popping intermittently -- even through the speeches -- and champagne flowing incessantly.
And there was an audience that couldn't stop applauding, laughing, or generally delivering the appropriate show of enthusiasm for Arena's 30th birthday celebration. They toasted Arena, called the Kennedy Center "that place down the river" (much guffawing here), and teased Zelda -- in song -- about how she "founded a theater and presented poor Tom with the bill."
And that was after Bertolt Brecht's "Galileo" had garnered a standing ovation which continued while Zelda was presented with roses "for 30 years of companies."
She got four bunches of roses. "I thought it was going to be 30 roses," she told the audience. "And I was going to say, 'It's funny, but it doesn't seem like 30 years. It seems like 90.'"
"I guess you've already heard from Zelda," said Tom, introducing her. "But it's hard to stop hearing from Zelda."
She went to the stage. "Wait, I just want to make sure all the actors are here. Are you here?" "Yeah," boomed down from the balcony of the Old Vat Room. "I feel like it's Christmas and the whole damn family made it."
Roger Stevens, head of the Kennedy Center, arrived late. Stevens -- being the good Democrat that he is -- had just come from a party given for President Carter by David Lloyd Kreeger. "What I'd like to congratulate Zelda on is that she's been willing to face the unknown for 30 years," Stevens said in his on-stage toast.
James Earl Jones, who appeared in "The Great White Hope" on the stage of the Arena, recalled on stage, "I was bumming around. I'd given up on Broadway. I was discovering regional theaters -- outposts -- and that led me here. That's probably why a lot of you know me now."
Arena actress Halo Wines read "an amalgamation of words from Mark Hammer who is in our company and Rudyard Kipling who is not." In it she cited many of the achievements of Arena, including moving "from a strip joint to a brewery to become the cornerstone of Southwest Washington."
"I just want to toast all of the kids who will be in our places 30 years from now," said Prosky.
Back in another part of Arena where music and food vied for space and attention, some of those "kids" of the company sat talking. "It was okay," came the assessment of last night's performance from Robert Westenberg (Andrea Sarti as a man in "Galileo").
"Well, you see tonight was a full moon," added Charles Janasz (who was Ludovico).